One New Paltz town supervisor could be in trouble as a former one returns to reclaim the position. The democratic caucus on Aug. 23 saw current Town Supervisor Toni Hokanson lose her party’s nomination to Ulster County Legislator Susan Zimet, 167 to 56.
“I have to believe that caucus represented the will of the public,” said Zimet.
Hokanson remains unfazed as she plans to kick her campaign into gear, which was stalled due to the recent hurricane and her duties to the job. She said she has the support of the New Paltz Working Families Party but also hopes to find political support elsewhere, by “seeking the republican endorsement.” Hokanson also has a message for current democrats.
“I will be contacting democrats and asking them to come off the democratic line and support me.”
Both candidates shared their views on town and village consolidation, budgetary concerns with the police department and increased industrialization to attract new revenue. The two candidates also stressed their experience and reputation.
Zimet, who worked as town supervisor for four years, credits this – in addition to being a county legislator and her time spent running for the Senate – with understanding how government works “from the bottom up to the top down.” According to Zimet, working closely with Albany is important on issues of consolidation and can’t be done without the state sitting at the same table as New Paltz.
“We can’t operate as these individual fiefdoms,” she said. “It’s all the same taxpayers, it’s all the same pocket. We have to think collectively.”
Zimet said because there was a study on the table exploring a coterminous-type government-one which shares services between the town and village-and the will of the public to consider this option makes this moment in time an “opportune” one for Zimet to return to the post. She warned that if nothing was done with the study, and consolidation was not achieved at the local level, Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s administration would force a merge in his efforts to find cost-effective measures to save the state money.
“We all need to turn around and say to the governor, ‘you want to consolidate, well great,’” said Zimet. “‘Here’s New Paltz, we have a study on the table, why don’t you use us as a model community?’”
Meanwhile, Hokanson said she is “open-minded” to consolidation. She took part in writing the grant application to fund the study. She said it’s important for the community to have objective information in order to make a community decision.
Still, there was the matter of the police budget, but both candidates expressed concern that the police are an important part of the community and are needed to protect public safety.
“My opinion is that we cannot afford to cut the police budget without serious consequences,” said Hokanson. “[There will be] consequences to the health and safety of our residents and the protection of our businesses as well as complete change in the quality of life.”
Hokanson said without a strong police presence, gangs could change the face of New Paltz and it would no longer be the community “that we love”.
Zimet said the police must come out of the “firing line” over the issue of why taxes are so high. She said that if she were elected as town supervisor, she would “actively” be looking for ways to secure outside funding for the police department.
“There’s no ifs, ands or buts that New Paltz needs a police department,” said Zimet.
Both candidates also expressed their desire to bring new industry to the area. Hokanson said that New Paltz needs more commercial and industrial activity to bring in both jobs and additional taxpayers. She said the zoning for these projects is already there.
Meanwhile, Zimet specifically mentioned an industrial corridor on South Putt Corners Road to bring renewable energy into the area, to make it a “renewable corridor.” She said the governor has set aside “over a billion dollars” for an economic development plan in the Hudson Valley.
“We have an opportunity to develop a really great project in New Paltz that would benefit the Hudson Valley as a whole, and that money is ours for the taking, if we do it right,” said Zimet.
When asked about the governor’s Mid-Hudson Regional Economic Development Council and how SUNY New Paltz was glazed over for representation for Ulster County–instead presidents from SUNY Rockland and Marist take leadership roles, according to an article in the Shawangunk Journal–Zimet responded that she doesn’t think SUNY New Paltz is unimportant, and that it’s going to take leadership in the community to demand this money.
Still it all comes down to what each candidate brings to the job. Hokanson said she will continue doing what she has been doing, which is bringing up the issue of public safety to protect the quality of life in New Paltz and “finding ways to economically grow” while lowering taxes.
Zimet told a story about her time as town supervisor that fostered mutual respect for town board members. She said when two people at odds on the board would go at it, she would challenge them to hear the other’s point of view. Eventually, she said both learned to stop fighting with each other. Zimet said with two republicans, two democrats and an independent on her town board, these people got along “better than any other board [she] saw.”
“As long as you respect each other, as long as you allow each member of your board to speak and be heard and you debate the issues intelligently without emotionally attacking each other, you can manage it,” said Zimet.
The election for town supervisor is slated for early November.